Cold

In what may be my favorite moment of dialogue in all of television ever, Mad Men‘s Betty Draper is being hit on by the naïve young Arthur Case at the stables where they both ride. As she is giving him the brush off, he tells her, “You’re so profoundly sad.” Betty’s response: “No. It’s just my people are Nordic.”

I have been told many times by the smug Arthurs of the world that they know what my emotional state is. I have been nicknamed by my very own mother “The Ice Princess” since I was a small child. If only I’d had Betty Draper’s dry wit in those situations. My people, too, are Nordic.

We are cold people. We are scientists, logicians, phenomenologists, mechanics, engineers, ship-builders, cabinet-makers, fishermen, Alpine climbers, ice-hearted businessmen, snow-shoe hikers, Arctic tundra dwellers. We come from small, rocky islands bathed in a thick grey mist, where preserved fish and ice-cold vodka warm the body from within. We are sailors of the Baltic, the North Sea, the North Atlantic; settlers of the frozen Great Lakes; residents of old misty mountains; perchers on the edge of the cold Pacific. We measure, we analyze, we calculate. Our eyes are the color of ice, of deep ocean waters, of granite. Cold is in our blood.

When my Alaskan cousin sent me an email about Bill Streever’s book, Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places, little did he know that I had already heard an interview with Streever on the radio and had procured a copy of my own as soon as possible. An entire book dedicated to cold, I thought, would be just the sort of thing to have handy on my bedside table for those nights when I felt like weeping in exhaustion after having endured yet another day in a suicidally hot and humid place like the one where I currently live. I could assuage my pain by living vicariously through Streever’s travels and research.

His book details (among many other things) the time he spent in Fairbanks (where my cousins live) studying the patterns of winter there; the cold. Here is what he writes about the time he immersed himself inthe near-frozen waters of Prudhoe Bay:

I go in headfirst. The water temperature is thirty-five degrees. I come up gasping. I stand on a sandy bottom, immersed to my neck. The water stings, as if I am rolling naked through a field of nettles. I wait for the gasp reflex to subside. My skin tightens around my body. My brain — the part of it I cannot control — has sent word to the capillaries in my extremities. “Clamp down,” my brain has commanded, “and conserve heat.” I feel as if I am being shrink-wrapped, like a slab of salmon just before it is tossed into the Deepfreeze.

I had Streever’s words in mind as I prepared to plunge into my tub of ice water after today’s run – – the recovery ice bath I had been assured would prevent muscle soreness the next day. I filled the tub with cold water and dumped in as much ice as I had — I had been making extra and saving it in the freezer all week with today’s bath in mind. I plopped my still be-socked feet into the icy water and carefully slid all the way in, immersing myself to just above the waist.

I felt the cold ache in my feet, the part of my lower body that is the least well insulated with fat. My calves, shins, and thighs were slower to feel the prickling sensation Streever descibes, but as I sat in the ice water I could easily envision the capillaries constricting, the over-worked muscle fiber wringing itself out, any potential swelling prevented before it could begin.

It didn’t hurt. Honestly, the extreme cold I subjected myself to for those fifteen minutes felt like a relief. Whether or not I’ll feel any delayed-onset muscle soreness tomorrow (as would be typical), I can say that the time spent in the ice bath was, strangely enough, a pleasure. It may have been the only time my body stopped actively producing sweat since I moved to Alabama in 2007.

[30/365] IceI will no doubt be employing the ice bath after my race two weeks from now. With a hotel ice machine, I may even be able to get enough ice to make it truly, terribly, wonderfully cold in that tub. Ice bath, take me home.

11 thoughts on “Cold

  1. Clarabella January 30, 2010 / 8:02 pm

    Although you well know I don’t share your love of all things cold, 3 things: 1) that book looks awesome, 2) I’m glad the ice bath wasn’t painful, & I hope it works to prevent sore muscles and 3) I will help lug buckets of hotel ice back to your room with you. Ok 4 things.

  2. Kate January 30, 2010 / 8:59 pm

    The book is indeed awesome! I am slowly picking through it bit by bit, when I need the chilly feelings the most. Also, thanks for you ice-lugging offer! I am so glad you’re coming to B-ham with me!!

  3. MC Etcher January 31, 2010 / 8:48 am

    Wow, great post!

    I remember the Mad Men scene you’re talking about – January Jones is so skilled at keeping it cool that in one article I read, her acting skills were called into question. Too bad the writer misunderstood skillful intent for a lack of.

    Looking forward to the final results of the ice bath.

  4. Kate February 1, 2010 / 12:34 pm

    MC – Oh man, someone called into question her acting? I thought she was fab in that scene. Agreed – she’s supposed to be sort of flat; it’s the whole point! ANYway, I see you’re with me on this issue so I’m preaching to the choir here.

    ICE BATH UPDATE: So Sunday, the day after I ice-bathed it all up, I only had a bit of minor soreness in my quads. Nothing much to speak of. My knees and shins/shinsplint areas were fine and completely pain free. Those are the areas that trouble me usually, and I usually ice them w/ bags of frozen veggies. This seemed a lot simpler and more effective than the veggie approach, so I’ll definitely be busting out the ice bath method after any big runs in the future. It’s not an everyday thing, though. For short, mid-week runs, I don’t need to bother.

  5. Danimal February 1, 2010 / 1:01 pm

    Remember that Huey Lewis video from the 80’s (redudant!) where he sticks his face under a sink full of ice water?

    I do.

  6. Kate February 1, 2010 / 2:08 pm

    D – I had forgotten that, but now I’m vaguely remembering it. Off to google/youtube for the whole glorious thing. (Major Huey Lewis fan here, admittedly.)

  7. Der February 10, 2010 / 12:49 pm

    I’ve been slapped with the “cold” label many times throughout my life. My aloofness and shyness has landed me in so much trouble over the years that it’s ridiculous. People typically assume I’m a prick. I’ve also been accused of having a learning disability and being “stoned all the time.” Ultimately, it’s a disagreeable character trait that has caused me problems in the workplace and in personal relationships. One coworker became so unnerved by my reservedness (I don’t think that’s a word but I’m rolling with it) that he complained to upper management about my behavior before requesting to move to another cubicle.

    Anyway, I like the “Nordic” line. I’ll have to remember that one the next time someone calls me on all of this.

  8. Kate February 10, 2010 / 2:12 pm

    Der – OMG someone accused you of having a LEARNING DISABILITY because of this?! Yikes! I thought I had it bad. The thing that always sticks in my craw from my past was that once a friend accused me of being rude and disconnected because I wasn’t friendly enough with a waiter. A WAITER. Who was NOT MY FRIEND. Argh. My senior yearbook from high school is full of messages from classmates saying they were too intimidated to talk to me. Double argh.

    At any rate, there is comfort in the fact that the people who know us — really, really know us — know we are not mean or aloof or disabled. This is why I have a close group of friends – I trust them and don’t worry about them getting all “YOU’RE RUDE AND AWFUL” with me just because I am quiet most of the time. But yeah, just in case, I plan on using Betty Draper’s line, too.

  9. Kate February 10, 2010 / 2:14 pm

    I should clarify – not just “a close group of friends” but a close group of friends as opposed to a loose group of friendly acquaintances with whom I make vaguely social chat. With me, it’s just super unlikely that I will make small talk with someone.

    (I read that and realized it looked like I was saying “this is why I have friends, period.”)

  10. Der February 11, 2010 / 1:04 pm

    Oh, you’ve been criticized for being “rude” to waiters/waitresses too? That happened to me about a month ago. According to a friend, I was too patronizing when I explained to a waitress how we wanted to pay with separate debit cards. Sometimes ya’ just can’t win. While no one called me out about this in my yearbook, someone I had a mad crush on during my senior year once told me she wouldn’t even consider dating me because I was “always came across like a complete asshole” for not talking much.
    The “learning disability” comment came from someone who was training me for a dinky summer job a number of years ago. She didn’t appreciate the fact that I tended to doodle in a notebook while she spent four days teaching a group of us a task that could have been outlined in a few hours. I could fill up this comment board with more anecdotes but I’ll hold myself to just one more: I worked at a restaurant when I was in high school. A customer became so angry at me because of general demeanor while ringing up her order that she returned the next day and chewed out my manager for five minutes.

    I don’t know about you, but these “YOU’RE SO RUDE” comments always seem to come from women. Men, not so much. No idea why that is. I wish there was a term for this condition/ailment/whatever. “Faux-jackassery”? “Terminal aloofness”?

  11. Kate February 12, 2010 / 11:18 am

    I have definitely gotten a lot of that “you don’t know how to act right” stuff from other women, but I also not-so-fondly remember getting a lot of flak when I worked at my first restaurant job and had not mastered the fake good cheer that comes with the profession. Back then, middle aged men would always be admonishing me and telling me I should “smahl purty.” CREEPIEST THING EVER. I had some ideas about how they should be manipulating THEIR own anatomy, too, but I kept those to myself. Anyway, it’s like I said back in my very first post on this blog: American culture privileges and rewards extroversion. I really believe that. So I have somewhat learned to fake it in certain situations, these days.

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